What are the worst pseudoscientific myths you ever learned from pop culture?

Illustration for article titled What are the worst pseudoscientific myths you ever learned from pop culture?

Anyone who has read adventure novels, especially from certain time periods, has picked up a few questionable pieces of "scientifically proven" information. The James Bond novels alone left me believing a couple of different myths (though not the one about homosexuals being unable to whistle).


Recently I posted about a well-known science myth started by a James Bond novel that a sumo wrestler was trained to draw his testicles entirely back into his body, something that most schools of sumo deny doing. A more convincing myth is the one set out in Goldfinger. The eponymous villain, in the novels, has a mistress who he has entirely painted gold, except for a strip down her back that allows her skin to "breathe." He eventually murders her by painting the strip down her back as well, leaving her to suffocate. It's picked up in the movie because it makes for a fantastic visual image. Even the producers believed the science behind this, leaving a patch of the actress's skin unpainted in order to keep her from dying on camera.

Believe it or not, I read about this myth in not one, but two books. They second book was a negligible novel I read as a teen about a young model's troubles in the world of high fashion. She was told by a make-up artist that some other models had agreed to have body paint put all over them, but that the make-up artists had forgotten to leave a patch of skin clear. The models had collapsed and been rushed to the hospital "just in time." I know I was meant to be contemplating the callousness that the fashion industry shows towards the young models it seems to worship, but all I was really thinking was, "Just like in James Bond!"

I realize now that the author of the book and I must have shared the same reading history. In fact, we could probably trace branching lines of scientific misconception through literature, tv shows, and movies, learning where each fiction writer picked up their information and tracing it back to its source. Obviously, there are a few tropes that everyone knows to be untrue. Outrunning a fireball or an endless supply of bullets make people giggle when they show up in movies or tv shows. And, for the record, a person cannot be killed by skin suffocation - though they might overheat if they can't sweat away the paint when they're too hot.

What scientific myths did you pick up from your favorite stories? Let's compare notes, and see if we can trace back myths to their origin points.


John Hazard

That evolution has a pre-planned goal to evolve us and other life into "higher", "more evolved" forms.

Like in the classic Outer Limits episode "The Sixth Finger": a scientist creates a sonic chamber that can push the evolutionary state of an organism inside forward or backward. A man id placed inside and evolved forward, giving him a big brain and a sixth finger. Later, he's "devolved" into an ape-like hominid.

It's ridiculous. Evolution is a process where lifeforms respond to their environments, and change (through a long process of random mutation trial and error) to adapt to the environment. Locked in a box, even if time were somehow moved forward at an accelerated rate, nothing would happen- because the environment wouldn't change. Certainly nothing would cause him to become smarter, need another finger, and develop psychic powers.

A very common misconception, which pervades pop culture, and science fiction.